‘Dark Phoenix’: Let’s Talk about Unearned Resolution

     September 3, 2019


Spoilers ahead for Dark Phoenix. 

Dark Phoenix is a movie that doesn’t really work on any level. Even by its own metric where in the opening voice over, Jean Grey (Sophie Turner) asks who we’re meant to be and if we can evolve, the film doesn’t really have an answer. Because we never really get to know who Jean Grey is beyond someone who had a traumatic past, the best the film can offer is a limp, “Embrace your emotions, love your family, and sacrifice for the greater good.” Jean’s “evolution” is that she has to face her past trauma, gets an apology from Xavier (James McAvoy), and then dies in order to stop the bad guy, Vuk (Jessica Chastain). That’s an incredibly weak resolution to its own question of who Jean Grey is/was or what her evolution entailed.

But that’s not the last scene of the movie. The last scene is this bizarre button that belongs from a different movie with different leads. The final scene has Xavier, now retired from being the head of Xavier’s School for Gifted Children (renamed the Jean Grey School for Gifted Children) and quietly enjoying retirement at a Parisian café. There he’s greeted by Magneto (Michael Fassbender), who offers Xavier a home in his little commune and also a game of chess. After declining the game, Charles reluctantly accepts, and they start to play again. Overhead, we see the Phoenix/Jean re-enter the atmosphere for a movie that will never happen.


Image via 20th Century Fox

Setting aside the Phoenix, this scene is completely unearned. It’s clear that for writer-director Simon Kinberg, this is the ending the franchise needs because the central conflict has always been between Xavier and Magneto, and the belabored chess symbolism shows how they approach the question of mutants and humans from different perspectives. However, their friendship is not really a part of Dark Phoenix. They have one scene where they confront each other, Magneto dismisses Xavier as soft, and then there’s a set piece. That’s it. That’s the extent of the Magneto/Xavier divide in Dark Phoenix.

So where does this scene come from? Why does Magneto (who, it should be mentioned, is a mass murderer who just gets to walk free because of reasons) feel the need to reconcile with Xavier? What does their friendship mean in terms of its reconciliation? Does Magneto now accept living in peace with humans? Does Xavier now believe that isolationism is the only way forward? What does this scene mean?

This kind of scene breaks the reality of the movie because it’s done solely as an acknowledgement to the franchise rather than anything motivated by plot or character. And if that kind of acknowledgement is all you care about, then just have a lavish end-credits scene with clips from the previous movies. But if you’re going to make it part of your story, and the scene on which you end your film, then it can’t just come out of nowhere. If Dark Phoenix was entirely about the battle between Xavier and Magneto and how they’ve finally found a détente, then this scene makes sense. But without that conflict, it just becomes a lazy nod to earlier, better movies.

Note: This feature was originally published at a prior date, but has been bumped in the wake of Dark Phoenix’s Digital HD release on September 3rd.

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